Cinsault – A Blending Specialist
Cinsault (sin-SOH or san-SOH) or Cinsaut (without the “l”) is a common red grape in the Rhone Valley of southern France. Because Cinsault is heat and drought tolerant, it is also important in the southern French region of Languedoc-Roussillon and former French colonies of Algeria and Morocco. The origin of the grape is uncertain, but it likely came from some place along the eastern Mediterranean. Cinsault produces richly colored red wines with a softer, less tannic character, and is often blended with grapes like Grenache, Carignan (care-in-yawn) and Syrah to impart softness, spicy flavors and fresh fruit aromas.
Cinsault is popular in the Middle East and northern Africa because of its heat tolerance, drought resistance and capacity to produce large volumes of wine. Cinsault is a key component in Chateau Musar, the most famous wine from Lebanon, which has been widely recognized by wine lovers around the world. In South Africa, Cinsault is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to generate softer, easier-drinking blends. Cinsault was also one of the parent grapes, along with Pinot Noir, of South Africa’s most famous cross variety, Pinotage. Significant plantings of Cinsault exist in Australia, where, again, it is used extensively in blends with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Bechtold Vineyard in Lodi, CA, planted in 1885, contains the oldest Cinsault vines in the U.S. Cinsault has spread to other parts of CA with warmer climates, and plantings have been made in the hot, dry region of eastern Washington’s Columbia River Valley. Again, because of its heat and drought resistant characteristics, the varietal has raised a lot of interest in the southwestern U.S., i.e., Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.
Cinsault vines can carry heavy croploads, upwards of 10 tons per acre, but better wines are produced when yields are controlled below 5-6 tons per acre. Cinsault can be susceptible to vine disease under moist, humid conditions, so it works best in a warm, arid climate (think Texas High Plains). It produces large cylindrical bunches of black grapes with fairly thick skins that can help darken the color when blending with lighter-colored wines. Cinsault adds structure, perfume, and a softness to rosé wines, and can often be the major component (lots of current rosé options in Texas). Strawberry and ripe red cherry are primary aromas for Cinsault, and these follow through on the palate along with darker raspberry, currant and black cherry flavors. As Cinsault wines age, they take on a deep brick red color and flavors of grilled meat, salt brine, cocoa and espresso.
A fruity, medium-bodied Cinsault from McPherson Cellars in Lubbock is currently available at 4.0 Cellars. The fruit was sourced from Texas High Plains vineyards, and the wine offers a clean, delicious taste of Cinsault for visitors to the 4.0 Cellars Tasting Room on U.S. 290 east of Fredericksburg. Y’all come and visit!